How Mass Movements Drive Policy Change

May 10, 2024

Policymakers can’t act alone. Movements help guide the way to change.

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The Power of Inside-Outside Strategy

Policy change doesn’t happen without movements. At the start of the last decade, Occupy Wall Street activists forced the world to confront the failures of neoliberalism and demanded a more democratic economy. “Over the following 10 years,” Roosevelt wrote last year, “academic theorists and policy researchers joined grassroots activists in beginning to articulate how to do exactly that.”

Making change takes thinkers and doers. This week, Roosevelt President and CEO Felicia Wong joined Deepak Bhargava, coauthor of Roosevelt’s recent Cultural Contradictions report, on his and Stephanie Luce’s Practical Radicals podcast to discuss inside-outside strategy—the way that movements can make effective change by engaging with policymakers.

“[The movement space] sets huge goals, it inspires us, it is imaginative,” said Wong. Occupy Wall Street, the Green New Deal network, Fight for 15, and the care work coalition are just some of the groups and campaigns that forced the arrival of the post-neoliberal era. It was their hard work that helped policymakers realize what was possible. After years of effort, progressive thinkers joined the ranks of the Biden administration, and legislators introduced proposals like Build Back Better—which, although it ultimately fell short of its original expansive scope, led to the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest piece of climate legislation to date.

In the episode, Wong and Bhargava discuss the coordination between movements and policymakers, and the importance of policy feedback loops—ensuring that the policies that are passed help strengthen coalitions and set the scene for future political change.

“You need the change in thinking. . . . But you can’t think in isolation,” Wong said. “You actually have to think—and act—in conjunction with movements . . . You have to understand: What is it that animates people?”



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What We’re Talking About

What We’re Reading

Neoliberal Economics: The Road to Freedom or Authoritarianism? – feat. Roosevelt Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz – Planet Money

A Plan to Help Harlem Students Build Wealth: Start Them Off with $10,000 – feat Roosevelt Senior Fellow Darrick Hamilton – New York Times

The US Will Triple Its Chip Manufacturing in Less than a Decade, Report Says – Quartz

‘We Deserve More’: US Workers’ Share of the Pie DwindlesThe Guardian